Africa Woos Tech Talent As Remote Work Visa Trend Grows Worldwide

By  |  September 26, 2023

In the global race for tech talent, African nations are making their move, with Namibia being the latest country to introduce a remote work visa. Other African destinations, including Cape Verde, Mauritius, and Seychelles, have also joined the fray.

The rise of digital nomadism is not limited to Africa, as the United States has seen a significant increase in the number of digital nomads. According to a report by US workforce management company MBO Partners in August 2023, 17.3 million people, or 11% of the US workforce, identify as digital nomads, up 2% from 2022. Additionally, 70 million more individuals are either planning to become digital nomads in the next few years or considering it.

Consequently, an increasing number of countries are streamlining their immigration processes and offering remote work visa programs. This shift, TechCentral reports, is driven by the desire to attract long-term talent rather than short-term tourists. Some African nations are also entering the digital nomad visa arena in an effort to draw talent from abroad.

Spain, for example, has opened its doors to “international teleworkers” as of 2023, allowing digital nomads to live in the country while working remotely for an employer based outside Spain. The Spanish government accepts applications at embassies or consulates in applicants’ home countries. If already in Spain on a tourist visa, digital nomads can apply for a residency card valid for three years, with the option to renew it for two more years.

This remote work visa is available to non-EU citizens and comes with certain requirements, including an income of at least double the Spanish minimum wage, a clean criminal record, private health insurance, a one-year employment contract with a foreign company, and proof of relevant work experience or a university degree in the field. The application process boasts a fast-track 20-day processing period.

Canada, known for welcoming digital nomads for short stays on visitor visas, is working on a “tech talent strategy” to attract foreign workers, consulting with provinces and territories to promote Canada to digital nomads. The government is also considering allowing startups to apply for work permits lasting up to three years.

In South America, Uruguay has opened residence permits to digital nomads for six months, with the option to extend it to a year. The process is straightforward for those not requiring a visa for entry, involving an online data form, a financial self-sufficiency affidavit, and a vaccination certificate. After the initial trial period, digital nomads can apply for temporary or permanent residency.

Over 60 countries worldwide currently offer remote work visa programs, and this trend is expected to gain momentum. Harvard Business School associate professor Prithwiraj Choudhury notes that Western countries like Spain and Canada are opening their doors to digital nomads not just for tax and consumption benefits but also to integrate knowledge economies and foster local-global connections.

Choudhury cites Chile as a pioneer in this regard, with its startup initiative from over a decade ago leading to a vibrant local startup scene thanks to connections formed between foreign entrepreneurs and locals.

Spain’s digital nomad visa scheme is part of a new startup law aimed at nurturing the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and attracting innovation and talent. The remote work visa can contribute to obtaining permanent residency, requiring a five-year stay. Part-time work for a Spanish company is permitted, as long as it doesn’t exceed 20% of the remote worker’s total foreign income.

While taxes may be high in Canada, it could be an attractive option for digital nomads from Latin America, Southeast Asia, or the Middle East looking to convert their visas into regular work opportunities. Moreover, foreign workers facing challenges renewing US visas could consider relocating to Canada and working remotely for their American employers.

Interestingly, the United States is notably absent from the competition for skilled digital nomads, as other countries like Canada, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil offer more favourable living conditions and opportunities.

While remote work visas have their advantages, they have also raised concerns in some countries, such as Portugal, where wealthy foreigners have been blamed for driving up real estate prices and causing housing issues for locals. However, no country has revoked its remote work visa programs to date.

Inquiries from prospective digital nomads often focus on destinations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, Panama, Thailand, and Indonesia. Africa is also emerging as a potential digital nomad hotspot, with several countries, including Namibia, Cape Verde, Mauritius, and Seychelles, introducing remote work visa programs.

Choosing a digital nomad destination should align with one’s goals and lifestyle preferences, advises Jovana Vojinovic, director of business development at Nomad Capitalist, a firm that assists entrepreneurs with overseas relocation. The cost of living and reasons for leaving one’s home country should be key factors in the decision-making process.

Featured Image Credits: Waldo Swiegers

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